I called a friend who does not identify on the binary gender spectrum “she”, not “they”, and was rightfully called out for it.
It was impolite, and politeness is important to me. That is one of my core identities. I apologized. My apology was accepted.
Unlike them, my (masculine) gender is a fact for me, but not my most important identity. If an angel were to come down from heaven and say to me, “Wrolf, you’ve got it too good. You can’t be both a man and a Jew!”, I would choose to be a Jew.
I have other identities. Probably the most important to me is my prowess as a geek. I am a geek’s geek—other geeks come to me with their problems. And keep coming back. I inhabit a world of ideas.
In my geeky world, I pass as straight, and was married to a woman for over 30 years. But the first is a matter of convenience, the second I hope was more about her, not her chromosomes. We did struggle somewhat with the oppressive nature of marriage as a patriarchal institution, coming up against the hard realities of immigration law thirty five years ago. We have friends who did not have our easy way out, theirs was a long-distance relationship while struggling to get a visa that probably would have been denied if INS had not been misled to believe that this was only for work.
Here in America we Jews are white and privileged, but this is so much a social construct of modern American society. If there is such a thing as race, I am a cross-breed. Descended from one of the four founding mothers of Ashkenazi Jews from the Middle East, and also from British stock. 23andme has turned me into a puppy in a litter of dubious parentage—does he have the instincts of a bird dog, can he herd sheep? How long does he have before the Alzheimer’s sets in, and will he remember in time to return to the ocean?
I struggle with masculinity. In the past scuba diving was my passion. The rush of adrenaline from dropping into the murky depths off Long Island into shipwrecks, entering and mastering a potentially lethal environment. So masculine. With only a few exceptions, men and women slotted into their assigned roles, divers and bubble-watchers, though in the respect accorded to proficiency in this non-competitive sport, the few women who participated were equally regarded. But I truly appreciated the crab cakes that my buddy Zero’s mom made.
The sexism I encounter in the world of progressive activism is so jarring to me. At work, there is very little scope for sexism in the dominance games—everyone in the room of techs is male, when I interrupt someone speaking because I have a burning desire to be in charge, I am techsplaining not mansplaining. It was so strange to me when I realized that in a room full of women activists, I was unintentionally the loudest voice. I try to back off, but others do not fear to rush in. I see clearly the dominance of a small group of cis-white men, drowning out other voices and chasing them away. The sexism of the American Left of the sixties is well-documented, different perhaps in form, but still alive and well today.
So I don’t identify with most of the identities that are promoted in American society. It is difficult for me to understand why gay or straight, white or Black, cis- or trans- is so important to people, when I feel that it is kind of like preferring brunettes to blondes. People really don’t talk about being a “leg man” or a “breast man” anymore, I found an Onion article that would have been even funnier if only it had still been transgressive to call out objectification. But I cannot deny other people’s lived realities, especially when they are the victims of oppression
My gut tells me that this is all washing away, that today’s youth is being less and less defined by these differences. But like the withering away of the nation-state, I do not think I will live to see it completely over.